x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

The NHL's tales of the unexpected

This season, nothing has been as it should be on the road to the Stanley Cup, writes Sam McCaig.

Montreal, an unlikely championship team, is one series away from the Cup.
Montreal, an unlikely championship team, is one series away from the Cup.

The 2010 NHL play-offs have unfolded exactly as we expected - in that they have not unfolded as we expected at all. No matter what fans of the Montreal Canadiens are telling you, there is no way anyone saw this coming. The bottom two seeds in the East have advanced to the conference final. The Habs knocked off the regular-season champions (Washington) and the defending Stanley Cup champions (Pittsburgh). Not bad for a team that squeaked into the play-offs with an overtime loss in their last game of the season to "claim" the No 8 seed in the conference.

The Philadelphia Flyers, meanwhile, a team that began the campaign as a Cup hopeful, instead imploded and only punched their ticket into the post-season with a shootout victory on the final day of the schedule. But rather than becoming first-round fodder, the Canadiens and Flyers rode hot goaltending, a renewed attention to team defence and timely scoring all the way to the conference final. Now one of them will get the chance to play in the Stanley Cup final and, who knows, maybe squeeze out one more miracle and parade the big silver mug in front of thousands of adoring fans in a spectacle that, a few short weeks ago, seemed as likely as Bobby Clarke and Guy Lafleur coming out of retirement.

The Habs, who beat the Capitals on the back of Jaroslav Halak, their goalkeeper, have gained confidence (and why not?) as the play-offs have progressed, and by the end of the Pittsburgh series it was Montreal who were the superior team that dictated the action. The acquisition of the undersized forwards Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez by Bob Gainey, the former general manager, along with Hal Gill, the boat-sized defenceman - in transactions that were derided last summer - suddenly seem to be masterful management moves.

In Philadelphia, meanwhile, a disenchanted dressing room at mid-season is pulling together and powering the team deeper than anyone imagined. Which, according to NHL play-off logic, is just as it should be. sports@thenational.ae